Have you ever been sleeping soundly, recovering from a long day, and then your wide-eyed, energetic toddler barges into your room to wake you up at 5 AM? Boy have I been there! The professional term for this is actually called 'early morning waking', and in this article we explore what it is and how to fix it.
Oftentimes, even though your toddler could definitely benefit from a few more hours of sleep (and so could you), your toddler is determined and ready to start the day, no matter what time it is or how tired mom or dad are. Toddler early waking is quite common, so we reached out to certified sleep consultant, Kaela, at Sustainable Sleep Solutions, to learn more about this “waking early” habit, and how to adjust it.
So whether you’re a parent who prefers to sleep in a bit or one who likes alone time in the morning before the day begins, this blog is for you! Keep reading for great insight and tips from Kaela:
First things first, what defines an “early morning waking”?
Anything before 6am is considered early morning waking and anything before 5 am is actually considered middle of the night waking. So consider 6am and later as fair game to start the day.
What causes early morning waking in toddlers?
Early morning waking can be caused by a few factors we will explore in more depth, including:
Amount of sleep
What is the right amount of sleep for babies and toddlers?
It is paramount to look at how much sleep your child actually needs when diving into their early rising. This crucial step allows us to make some magic and shift your child’s sleep as needed.
Infants between 4-6 months old need around 14-16 hours of sleep. Infants 6-12 months old vary in needed sleep times, but it's typically between 13-15 hours.
Toddlers 1-2 years old need about 11 hours of night sleep and a 2 hour nap daily. (Around 11-13 hours of total sleep in 24 hours)
Preschoolers 3-5 years old need about 10-11 hours of night sleep and 1-2 hour nap daily. (Around 10-13 hours of sleep in 24 hours)
Let’s take a look at this in practice:
Lena, a 20 month old, goes to bed at 7 pm and wakes at 5 am. She naps for 3 hours, from 12-3pm daily.
In this case, Lena is getting around 13 hours of sleep daily. The amount of sleep she’s getting overnight isn't bad and neither are her naps. However, if the family is wanting to push out her morning wake up at 5 am to 6 am, Kaela recommends they first try cutting her nap down to 2 hours for several days and see how it helps.
When changing your child’s nap or bedtime, it is important to give it around 5 nights to see a difference before trying a different time, such as taking bedtime later instead of earlier.
How to Fix It Early Morning Waking in Babies and Toddlers:
Your child’s sleep is naturally lighter as the night progresses and their sleep pressure decreases as morning time nears. This means that environmental factors can really disrupt sleep, signaling the body that it's time to start the day. These factors include light, temperature, and noise.
Tips for a restful sleep environment:
-Keep your child’s room dark. Use blackout curtains and be sure light isn’t coming through at 5 am, especially in the summer months. This can be hard in warmer climates, so try to use the darkest curtains that still allow for airflow if your windows need to be open to help cool the room.
-Use white noise (such as a whirring fan), brown noise (like the sound of crashing waves) or pink noise (the rumble of a thunderstorm), for some continuous noise buffer in the night while they’re sleeping. This also helps drown out noises from other household members that may be getting ready for the day early, as well as those neighborhood dogs barking early in the morning, roosters crowing, and birds chirping.
-Watch the temperature in the nursery / bedroom so they aren’t too cold or too hot in that early morning range. In warmer areas without air conditioning, fans are really helpful and also help to drown out noise. Body temperatures drop in the early morning hours, so having a comfy sleep sack or temperature-appropriate pajamas are a good idea.
This can take some playing around a bit, but bedtime is the one of biggest culprits in early morning wakings. Depending on when your little one naps, their bedtime being too late can create an early wake up.
Yes…you read that correctly. A child that goes to bed too late may actually be overtired. An overtired child will wake more often in the night and earlier in the day.
Kaela recommends trying an earlier bedtime for at least 5 nights. For example, if you find bedtime is usually at 8PM, try to set it at 7:30 for 5 nights to see if that helps things.
Always be sure bedtimes and their waking for the day line up appropriately for how many hours of sleep they need for their age.
Another important part to the puzzle of early rising in babies and toddlers has to do with sleep habits. How your child falls asleep at bedtime impacts how they handle wake ups during the night and the early morning.
If your child needs heavy amounts of assistance to fall asleep, chances are they also need this in the early morning and throughout the night to fall back asleep.
As your child learns to self settle more at bedtime, they can do so more in the early mornings as well. This can drastically help with the very early wakings.
If your child is awake before your desired and realistic time, give them time to settle themselves progressively each morning. Keep the area dark and supportive of sleep. If your child is up but it isn’t yet the time you wish to be up, push activities, food, and excitement back to as close to your desired wake time as possible.
Remember that habits do take time to form and to change. When families have a toddler waking at 4:30 am and then give them a show to watch and a snack right away, the toddler comes to expect a snack and a show at that time each day. When we change this, there will likely be some protest. But we are setting a new expectation for them, so be patient and adjust as needed.
Keep in mind, waking up early is a phase that passes or is fixed by addressing one, or several, of the aspects above. Working toward a later start to your day is possible, but be realistic with yourself and your toddler! Remember to take a deep breath and acknowledge what is working currently with your sleep routine, and what you would like to change.
Quiet mornings spent sleeping or sipping coffee are in your future, and so is a better night’s sleep for your precious little one!
Mahalo Kaela for sharing your expertise with our community! If you would like to learn more about Sustainable Sleep Solutions, head over to www.sustainablesleep.co where you’ll find tons more resources about sleep as well as ways to work with Kaela one on one.